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Author's Note: Having grown tired of what's currently available on TV I've decided to rewatch some of my all time favorite shows. I'm limiting myself to one episode per week in order to experience the storytelling as it was originally intended, which hopefully will preserve the thrill of having to wait a week to see what happens next. This article covers the LOST episode “…In Translation", which originally aired on February 23rd, 2005.
Previously on LOST: Determined to get his son off the island, Michael gets to work on constructing a raft.
For the second consecutive week LOST delivers an episode low on plot yet big on character development, and it once again proves effective as “…In Translation” does a fantastic job of peeling back another layer on Jin and Sun Kwon’s complicated relationship. Since the plane crash the Korean couple have existed on the fringe of the survivor’s makeshift civilization, both from a physical and cultural perspective. Jin in particular rarely interacts with the other survivors, who interpret his coarse treatment of Sun as borderline-abusive. And that’s ultimately what this chapter of LOST is about, the inherent disconnect that exists between different cultures with the most on the nose example being the barriers that language presents. And I’m not just talking about the inability the other survivors have to understand Korean and vice-versa, communication can just as easily be derailed when both parties have a firm grasp of the words being spoken.
The episode begins with yet another fight between the Kwons, with Jin becoming agitated after Sun wears a bikini in front of everyone. This is an obvious display of archaic values to the likes of Jack, Kate, and the others, and is certainly uncomfortable to watch as an American viewer, but given the cultural disconnect nobody initially feels comfortable enough to come to Sun’s defense. Kate’s casual “There they go again” tells the audience that this has become a regular occurrence, a necessary piece of exposition due to the fact that we’ve only witness a handful of these incidents. The show has gone out of its way to paint Jin as a villain, perhaps even more unlikable than camp scoundrel Sawyer, and this latest display of bad behavior is too much for Michael after Jin pushes Sun to the ground.
Jin and Michael have been at odds from the beginning so it’s no surprise to see them in each other’s faces again, but the slap Sun delivers to Michael is certainly shocking. We’re as surprised as he is to receive the blow to his face, and are left wondering if just like Michael we’ve overstepped a boundary by intervening in a culture we simply don’t understand through our judgment of Jin. The audience is aware that Sun possesses the ability to diffuse the situation as we know she speaks English, but are unaware of why she chooses not to.
Michael attempts to move past the situation by continuing to work on the raft, and while doing so he receives an apology from Sun who claims that her slap was meant to protect him. She tells him that Jin is capable of very bad things, which is a callback to “House of the Rising Sun” where we saw Jin return home covered in blood. Later that evening someone sets the raft on fire, and all suspicion immediately goes to Jin. His hands are covered in burns, which doesn't help his case.
Having purchased a spot on the raft Sawyer is understandably upset at its destruction, and knocks Jin out before taking him to the beach for judgment. Michael is unable to control himself as his inability to understand Jin drives him to beat the man, retribution for ruining the chance to escape the island for both Walt and himself. The violence forces Sun’s hand and she announces Jin’s innocence in English, a revelation that surprises the entire camp except for Michael and Kate, who already knew she could speak the language. She has put her already-rocky marriage at risk to save her husband’s life, and in return she receives contempt from Jin who feels betrayed. Back at the caves she pleads with him to start over, to take their relationship back to the beginning. In “House of the Rising Sun” we saw a young Jin that was sensitive and understanding so we know he’s capable of being a better man than he has proven to be on the island, but at the moment he's unwilling to give his wife another chance. He packs a bag and leaves their makeshift home, and in perhaps the episode’s biggest twist he joins Michael in rebuilding the raft. The episode closes with a beautiful shot of Sun wearing the same bikini as in the opening, and as she lets the wrap that covers her fly off she symbolically sheds the protective shell Jin has entrapped her in. As Locke has preached man times the island is all about the opportunity to start over, and Sun has finally hit the reset button.
The flashback found in “…In Translation” are interesting as they portray the same events found in “House of the Rising Sun”, but from Jin’s perspective. We discover that he was forced to work for Sun’s father in order to gain his approval, and that Mr. Paik is involved in some shady business activities. He sends Jin to a politician’s house to “send a message”, and since Jin isn’t a violent person at this point he doesn’t understand Paik’s meaning. Jin’s failure to intimidate the man is poorly-received by his father-in-law, who demands that Jin return to the man’s house, this time with an assassin that will teach him how to do the job properly. Knowing that he’s about to be an accessory to murder Jin beats the politician before he can be executed, saving the man’s life. We now have the answer as to why Jin returned home covered in blood, lending the character some much-needed sympathy. On LOST the easiest explanation is rarely the correct one.
Jin visits a fishing village to see his father, who he had told Mr. Paek was dead out of embarrassment. His father echoes Locke as he speaks of starting over, advising Jin that he take Sun and run away to the United States. Jin reveals that Mr. Paek is about to send him to Australia and America to deliver some watches, and that he will use the opportunity to leave Paek’s reach for good. So while Sun was planning on leaving Jin before boarding Oceanic Flight 815 her husband had been crafting his own escape plan, although his included the both of them.
Locke isn’t in this episode much, but accomplishes a lot in his limited screen time. After Sun saves Jin on the beach he pops up to remind the survivors that the Others are still out there, and since it’s been a couple weeks since Claire was kidnapped the reminder is appreciated by the audience as well. Later on he has a conversation with Walt where he correctly guesses that the kid was the one who set the raft on fire, with Walt revealing that he did it because he doesn’t want to leave the island. It’s yet another hint that there’s more to Walt than initially appeared, and that the young man will play a large role in the events to come.
The episode also tires to expand on the Shannon-Sayid-Boone love triangle, but that story thread has grown stale at this point. Perhaps knowing the outcome has ruined the subplot for me, but I find myself bored whenever it gets screen time. This week Locke offers some advice to Shannon regarding her stepbrother, telling her not to give him the attention he seeks. This is likely done because Locke wants to keep Boone focused on the hatch, as I can’t think of any reason he would care about their relationship.
Episodes like “…In Translation” and last week’s “Outlaws” stand the test of time because LOST’s show runners understand the value of characters. Outside of the raft burning there’s nothing that happens here, but it remains an important chapter in the show’s history. We barely see Jack, Kate, and Locke which speaks volumes about the strength of the supporting cast, as Daniel Day Kim and Yunjin Kim effortlessly carry this episode. The theme of communication is beautifully woven throughout the forty-three minutes, serving as a strong spine for the episode.
Next week on LOST: “Numbers”, the first Hurley flashback episode.